x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Great products sell themselves without the flash of flesh

Steve Jobs did not need attractive girls to sell billions of iPhones, iPads and iWhatevers. I mean, the man wore turtlenecks. A great product will sell itself.

Do products such as a camera need a dose of sex appeal to sell? The prevalent marketing trend would have us believe so. Frederic Brown / AFP
Do products such as a camera need a dose of sex appeal to sell? The prevalent marketing trend would have us believe so. Frederic Brown / AFP

It is coming up to that time of year when the world's technology manufacturers launch their latest, fastest, shiniest, life-changing, new products.

You would think with such promise and hyperbole, the gadgets would sell themselves. The merest glimpse of the charger socket should surely be enough to shift thousands of units. But it seems these gadgets are incapable of selling themselves. They need a PYT.

You know the sort I'm talking about. The Pretty Young Thing stands there in front of the gadget looking glamorous with her deceptively flawless skin - a patina made from layers of thick make-up that could only have been applied with a trowel.

Sometimes they dance about in revealing clothes. Sometimes they sit behind a desk or wear thick-rimmed glasses to give an impression of studiousness.

Whatever the shtick, they are just eye candy, there to greet customers with a smile and add sex appeal to the sale.

And it works. Well, it half works - they attract the men mostly.

"Technology can be very boring and for these guys this is as exciting as it gets," said one events manager at a recent launch for a new camera.

I disagree. Gadgets are sexy enough and do not need a manicured hand to sell them.

Steve Jobs did not need attractive girls to sell billions of iPhones, iPads and iWhatevers. I mean, the man wore turtlenecks.

The truth is, a great product will sell itself.

Fine, if it's an energy-saving, network switching subsystem for the telecoms industry that you're launching, bring a whole host of PYTs and parade them around the room if you want. This is the sort of product that needs a dose of sex appeal to sell.

But a laptop? A phone? A tablet computer? Please, put it away and preserve some modesty.

These women create an ambience equivalent to the cheesy 1970s car showroom with a bikini-clad blonde draped across a bonnet. So, what was the size of the engine? How quickly did it get to 60 miles per hour? You'll never know. You were too busy watching her slide off the car.

Some may argue that these ladies attract attention, that people will go over to talk to them and with great PR skills the girl will sell the product. As a habitué of too many tech launches to count, let me tell you otherwise.

Ask a PYT what other colours are available in the range, and she'll probably answer. Ask her what type of screen the device sports and you will invariably be met with an embarrassed smile as you are told to wait until she checks. And forget asking her about what Amoled stands for. (It is Active Matrix Organic Light Emitting Diode, in case you were wondering. And no, I did not Google it, thank you very much).

Everyone has the right to choose their way in life, and if baring your legs in public and becoming as objectified as the product you are parading around pays your bills and makes you happy, then all the best. But there is something completely unnecessary to PYTs at consumer tech shows.

The notion that "sex sells" is regrettable anywhere in the world, but perhaps more so in the UAE. Rarely do you come across such a contrast. Muslim women in modest black abayas sit opposite a European blonde in a short skirt. It is an uncomfortable situation for everyone; and it seems utterly short-sighted and small-minded of organisers to deem it acceptable.

The devices that tech firms sell are sophisticated. The consumers they sell them too are even more so. It's time the marketing matched the product and the buyer.

thamid@thenational.ae